January 21, 2010

Climbers Want To Clean Up Everest

A group of 20 Nepalese climbers, led by mountain-climbing pro Namgyal Sherpa, are planning a high-risk expedition to clean up the trash and debris left behind by mountaineers on Mount Everest, AFP recently reported.

Environmental activists say Everest has become a junkyard, littered with everything from human waste to corpses of those who never came back down, which do not decompose in the extreme environment of Everest.

"Everest is losing her beauty," Sherpa, 30, told AFP. "The top of the mountain is now littered with oxygen bottles, old prayer flags, ropes, and old tents. At least two dead bodies have been lying there for years now."

There have been attempts in the past to clean up the debris from the mountainside, but the sherpa said none of them ever made it into the so-called "death zone" above 26,250 feet, where there is not enough oxygen to sustain human life. His team will be the first to attempt such a daring task at that height.

The mission will begin in late April, when a small window of opportunity should be available, between the spring and summer monsoon, which offers the most ideal conditions for climbing the 29,028-foot peak. "Coping with extreme weather conditions like freezing temperatures, strong winds and blizzards will make our task difficult. But we are confident that we will rise to the challenge," Sherpa said.

In all, there will be 31 people involved in the cleanup, but only the 20 most experienced climbers -- all of whom have reached the summit before -- will go above 23,000 feet. Each member will have to make repeated trips into the death zone, carrying down as much as 33 pounds of rubbish at a time.

Since Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay first climbed Mount Everest in 1953, nearly 4,000 more people have scaled it. Most climbers spend thousands of dollars trying to reach the summit, but sadly, only few have paid much attention to the rubbish they left behind.

Government officials said that expeditions are expected to bring down all their rubbish themselves, but the rules are next to impossible to enforce. "Our officers accompany the expedition teams but they cannot go to the top, so our monitoring is weak," said Jitendra Giri, a mountaineering specialist at the tourism ministry. "We receive lots of complaints about mountaineers discarding tins, bottles and used batteries, but there's nothing we can do."

The Sherpa people of Nepal, who are Buddhists, make up most of the population of the harsh region, and they have long revered the world's highest peak and consider it sacred.

The clean-up campaign has won the support of Nepal's prime minister, and the team is now trying to raise the equivalent of 200,000 American dollars to fund the expedition. "We hope that our effort will open the eyes of the government and mountaineering fraternity to the need to preserve Everest," Sherpa said. "Everest has given fame to lots of mountaineers. Sadly, very little has been done to preserve the sanctity of the mountain."